MIM celebrates the art that musical instruments produce (music!) and the roles those sounds play in cultures around the world. Contained in our collection is a wealth of instruments that are works of art in their own right. From a sculptural drum to a sousaphone with ornate engravings, get an up-close look at some instruments that make a statement through the craftsmanship and creativity of their makers.

Dulali (nose flute), Fiji, early 19th c. (Oceania Gallery)

The beautiful patterns and motifs burned into the bamboo of this nose flute are similar to those used in Fijian tattoos. Nose flutes are important throughout Polynesia, where they were traditionally played for courtship.

Atungblan (cylindrical drum), Ivory Coast, early 20th c. (Africa Gallery)

This drum features carvings that can be “read” for their wisdom or symbolic meanings. The set of figures that look like a crocodile biting a human may illustrate the proverb “don’t insult the crocodile before you cross the river.”
Gift of Robert J. Ulrich and Diane Sillik

38K Sousaphone, USA, 1928 (Latin America Gallery)

C. G. Conn Ltd., maker
Olvera Music, Guadalajara, Mexico, engraving
This sousaphone, made of silver- and gold-plated brass, was manufactured in the U.S. but found its way to the city of Guadalajara. After decades of use in Mexican bands, it was refurbished and engraved with Aztec calendar designs.

“Zendegi” kamancheh (bowed spike lute), Iran, 1750–1794 (Middle East Gallery)

This historically important kamancheh is the most ornate of only seven known today made by legendary luthier Karam Khan. The body is turned from a single piece of mulberry wood, with alternating strips of inlaid camel bone and rosewood to create the pattern.

“The Puppeteer” acoustic guitar, Canada, 1995 (Orientation Gallery)

William “Grit” Laskin, inlay and maker
Canadian luthier and inlay artist Grit Laskin created a whimsical design for “The Puppeteer” that illustrates the creative process itself. Laskin portrays himself as a puppet animated by the strings of his artistic muse, and fellow inlay artist Larry Sifel is depicted in his actual role of providing inlay materials to the project.
Related Video: Dragons and Vines: Inlaid Guitar Masterpieces
Loan courtesy of Jean Sifel and Pearl Works

These instruments, along with many other beautiful examples, are featured in MIM’s 2020 collection catalog. The catalog is available for purchase at the MIM Online Store.